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Pearlstein discusses partisanship, conservatives, the Tea Party at Q-and-A

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Section: News

April 30, 2010

Polarized: Historian and journalist Rick Pearlstein answers questions in the Usdan International Lounge Monday. Pearlstein discussed conservatives, the Tea Party and President Barack Obama’s effect on polorizing politics, explaining that the Tea Party sees itself as trying to ‘take our country back.’
PHOTO BY Ingrid Schulet/The Hoot

Rick Pearlstein, a historian and journalist who focuses his coverage on political parties and their movements, spoke about the conservative movement, the Tea Party and President Barack Obama’s role in partisanship in a question-and-answer session Monday in Usdan’s International Lounge.

Pearlstein discussed the role of the conservative movement in America after World War II and explained historical analogies to the recent Tea Party movement.

Reflecting on the Tea Party, Pearlstein said “European reporters call wanting to know about the history of the Tea Party [and] American reporters just want to know about [its effect on] elections.”

He emphasized that the issues of the Tea Party are not something unheard of before, and said, “All these Americans believe that the other side is going to end the world.”

In the discussion session with Charlie Peters, a reporter from The Boston Globe, Pearlstein explained that many conservatives ask themselves, “Why don’t these liberals understand that we’re just trying to take our country back?”

In addition to participating in the question-and-answer session, Pearlstein also delivered a lecture to students earlier in the day. The session with Pearlstein in the evening was set up with more than 30 students.

Sahar Massachi ’11 wrote in an e-mail to The Hoot that he invited Pearlstein to speak as part of a new program called “Change Agency” because “his insights on social movements and their relationships to politicians could serve as an inspiration and instruction to us all.”

Massachi, who wrote that Pearlstein is a “brilliant” and “insightful” person, said “the goal was to expose others to his thinking.”

Pearlstein credited the student organizers of the event for doing “what Barack Obama could not do—which is bring Republicans and Democrats together.” While answering questions, Pearlstein answered questions from liberal and conservative students.

Pearlstein said that much of the fear of the opposing political party stems from false interpretation of the concept that “once they take this, they will take that,” and they will continue to keep achieving unreasonable goals “so we cannot let them take this.”

He added that just as many liberals often misinterpret the intentions of the Tea Party, conservatives often wrongly describe the Democrats’ passage of health care legislation.

“Saying everyone has to buy [health] insurance—that ain’t socialism,” Pearlstein said.

Pearlstein explained that citizens must accept the fact that they must contribute to the greater good of society. “There are public goods that everyone has to contribute to, whether they like it or not.”

He added that the February act of the man who flew his plane into an IRS building must not be ignored.

“There’s a lot of quiet desperation and anxiety in American life,” he said.

In his opinion the solution to such extremism is for politicians to learn to address the underlying issues and persuade citizens to discuss them in a more civil manner.

“Wise leaders can serve the nation in a way that tamps down incivility,” Pearlstein said.

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